Sufi Gathering Targeted, 10 Dead
“A suicide bomber blew himself up at a gathering of Sufi Muslims north of Baghdad, killing 10 people in the latest attack by Iraqi insurgents on religious sects they disapprove of, officials said on Friday. The bomber detonated his explosives on Thursday evening in a house near the town of Balad as Sufis gathered for a religious ceremony, Interior Ministry officials said. Sufis follow a form of Islamic mysticism that stresses the need for a personal experience of God. Some conservative Muslims consider them emotional or even heretical.”
We’d need more context to understand what is going on here. Unlike most of the Arab world outside Morocco, Iraq still has an important set of Sufi movements that include the Qadiris and the Naqshbandis. They are important both in the Kurdish north and among the Sunni Arabs. The shrine of Abdu’l-Qadir Jilani in Baghdad is a major pilgrimage site. Sufis meet to chant Quran and other verses, often with a lot of emotion. The Mevlevi Sufis of Turkey also dance and whirl. Sufism is a spiritual discipline, involving repetition of sacred verses, moderate self-denial, high moral standards, and allegiance to a spiritual master (Shaikh or pir). They often seek union of the soul with God and believe that all reality is One (i.e. they skirt close to if they do not outright embrace a kind of pantheism). They believe that the pir’s gravesite is full of blessings, and they attend at shrines to pray to God for favors. Sufis marry and have children, so they are not monks. They are trying to be in the world but not of the world.
Sufism is opposed by the Wahhabi strain of Islam that dominates Saudi Arabia, and by those elements of the Salafi (revivalist) movement in Sunnism that are influenced by Wahhabi ideas. They oppose the idea of shrines, of blessings emanating from the spiritual master or pir, of chanting non-Quranic verses, and of holding Sufi ideas, which they code as pantheistic.
My guess is that this Sufi order in Balad had thrown in with the new Iraqi government somehow, refusing to join in the jihad against it and against the Americans. Sufis are typically more peaceful and less rigid than Salafis or Wahhabis, though there are militantly anti-Western Sufi leaders, as well. (The Sufis of Fallujah are said to have joined in the guerrilla war, and it is rumored that Baathist official Izzat al-Duri networked with Sufis.) Salafis often start out not much liking Sufis, so they would be especially outraged by what they saw as Sufi traitors to the guerrilla movement.